Over the past few years, Reddit’s gained a reputation for being one of the last mainstream strongholds for kinda fascist-y content, thanks in part to the free-speech ideals long touted by its leadership. But it looks like the need for “growth”—and funding—is pushing the platform to do a bit of growing up.
Yesterday, Reddit CEO Steve Huffman (or “Spez,” as Redditors affectionately know him) published the platform’s annual transparency report, highlighting how the platform took down more than 200,000 pieces of offending content over 2019, along with nearly 56,000 accounts and nearly 22,000 subreddits—the site’s communities, most of which are moderated by volunteer users. He also flagged a “company update” regarding the way Reddit thinks about “quarantined” communities (emphasis ours):
When we expanded our quarantine policy, we created an appeals process for sanctioned communities. One of the goals was to “force subscribers to reconsider their behaviour and incentivise moderators to make changes.” While the policy attempted to hold moderators more accountable for enforcing healthier rules and norms, it didn’t address the role that each member plays in the health of their community.
Today, we’re making an update to address this gap: Users who consistently upvote policy-breaking content within quarantined communities will receive automated warnings, followed by further consequences like a temporary or permanent suspension. We hope this will encourage healthier behaviour across these communities.
A subreddit quarantine is a few steps removed from an outright ban. Content posted to those communities won’t appear in a user’s Reddit feed unless they actively subscribe to the quarantined community and have a verified email linked to their user account. Reddit also displays a warning screen before users can access content, and—this part is key—Reddit doesn’t take in any ad revenue from quarantined subreddits. By penalising upvotes on posts that flout its rules, Reddit is aiming to further limit the visibility of content that makes the site unfriendly to users and advertisers alike.
Of the 256 subreddits that the platform quarantined over the past year, the most vitriolic, by far, were far-right communities. Perhaps the most infamous—the pro-Trump subreddit r/The_Donald—finally landed in quarantine this past summer after “repeatedly” flouting the platform’s standards. While threats against police officers might have been the final straw, the forum users have openly called for violence long before the quarantine, with frequent shitposters encouraging each other to, for example, “exercise their second amendment on their government today,” or to “[shoot] at an oppressive government and [drive] them out.”
Naturally, this group was less than pleased with the new Reddit upvote policy, seeing it as a way for the platform edging into some straight-up Orwellian territory. “Wow. So not only can’t you post stuff they dislike, you can’t like stuff they dislike. You must agree with them, or else remain silent,” wrote one user. “Perhaps soon they will demand that all users must turn on their computer’s camera so they can make sure no one is smiling at a post they deem distasteful.”
“Everything is meant to minimise the voices of Trump supporters on their platform and boost the reach of anti-Trump voices,” wrote another.
Reading the writing on the wall, the change is less about Reddit simply adapting into a profitable venture. Over the past year or so, Reddit’s been making passes at the big spenders on platforms like Instagram and YouTube, but the platform’s “less-than-welcoming reputation” has historically drawn more trepidation than anything else. It’s part of the reason that the quarantines—and “advertiser whitelists”—came into play to begin with. It’s also part of the reason the company poured a ton of cash into bringing on Oracle to build out an AI tool to keep ads for, say, Coca Cola away from user posts touting the benefits of the Third Reich. Because votes can dictate what makes the front page of “The Front Page Of The Internet,”—the new upvote policy further quashes these unseemly corners into something that’s not only untargetable for advertisers, but actively punished.
As part of this push to bring in the big brands, Reddit also took yesterday to announce its first-ever branded ad campaign in the platform’s 15-year history. In a statement to Adage, Reddit’s VP of marketing, Roxy Young, mentioned that while Reddit might be known for its dude-centric, “internet culture”-obsessed audience, it wants to be known for having a substantial base among women that it’s historically shirked.
Meanwhile, the platform’s newly released promo materials for folks on the marketing side brand the company as “a space to connect and belong” and one of the few platforms where audiences can “connect with people who have similar interests,” first and foremost. Right now the platform just needs to balance connecting the friendlier parts of its user base while keeping the utter cesspools as isolated as possible.